Skip to main content

It isn’t all a bed of roses, trying to be a dictator.

Jeeves and Wooster
3.5: Hot Off the Press 
(aka Sir Watkyn’s Memoirs)

There's some serious thieving going on from Blandings Castle in this episode, albeit one could argue that by using a very early Wooster short story revolving around the same subject, it's fair game to get the drop on the account of Sir Galahad Threepwood's memoirs that formed the backbone of probably the best known Blandings novels, Summer Lightning and Heavy Weather.


Bertie WoosterWho's playing Mike in this merry melange of fun and topicality?
Stiffy BingConstable Oates.

Still, it never quite rings true to the starchiness of Sir Watkyn's character – former magistrate and justice of the peace – that he should engage in anything so scurrilous as spilling the beans on those he has encountered over the years. The plot just about stands up to it, though, with Bertie inveigled into stealing the manuscript, thus preventing publication, by Madeline Basset and his betrothed, Florence Craye (Fiona Gillies). 


Likewise, you can see how transposing some of the elements from Deverill Hall (The Mating Season) to Totleigh Towers works (Bartholomew substituting for Sam, Stiffy for Corky and Oates – Steve Harwood as the second of three actors in the role – for Dobbs are perfect fits), but it does rather have the side effect of making Gussie appear something of a wannabe lothario by giving him back-to-back fancies (last episode for Gertrude and here for Stiffy).


SpodeNever do that again, Fink-Nottle!

Still, this is quality Gussie material, impressed as he is upon a Pat and Mike sketch in the town hall concert and, when Oates drops out, squared up against Sir Roderick Spode and required to hit him with an umbrella as part of the comic business. There's no really good reason for Spode to show up here, except that he’s incredibly good value and John Turner's performance is incredibly good. He features in an amusing attempt to break into Sir Watkyn's safe, in which Bertie arrives on the scene to find Spode already there:

SpodeSir Watkyn asked me to fetch some things for him.
Bertie WoosterWith a hammer?


It seems there's some juicy details on Sir Roderick in the book ("It isn't all a bed of roses, trying to be a dictator": "Why don't you give it up, then?") but naturally, things go pear-shaped and they both have to flee (diving through a window). 


Bertie WoosterOld Gussie seems to live only for excitement, Jeeves.

As we saw in 1.2: Tuppy and the Terrier, an amateur talent night is always a recipe for disaster, and if this isn't quite up there with the vegetable throwing on that occasion we're witness to Stinker (a welcome return from Simon Treeves; he essayed the role throughout the series) singing "A Hunting We Will Go" to much applause, despite Bertie's uneasiness ("Fruit will be thrown"). The crowd response gives him the confidence to take Stiffy's hand in marriage from Sir Watkyn, rather than ask for it.


StiffyWhere on Earth did you go to school?
Bertie WoosterEton, and we didn’t do safecracking.

Gussie's only in the talent show because of Stiffy, who refuses to release him until he's done as he's told. Ah yes, the new Stiffy. Easily the best is Charlotte Attenborough, who would return for the last season; Amanda Harris is serviceable but lacks a sense of playfulness Attenborough brought to the part. 


As for Gussie, he not only incurs the wrath of Spode but must endure Oates bearing down on him when he retrieves Stiffy’s incarcerated dog, the aforementioned Bartholomew ("I'd never give you any sort of odds for Gussie as a sprinter on the flat" observes Bertie, who has to eat his words, only for Gussie to foolishly "escape" up a tree; as a solution, Jeeves boshes Oates on the head). Naturally, he returns to Madeline, citing the need for someone less exciting.


Lady FlorenceI will never marry you if those memoirs are published.

Madeline doesn't ask Gussie to rob the safe, on the grounds that "Augustus isn't a man of action like you" (he’s a man of intellect), noting too that "It's only a little safe". The strongest pressure on Bertie comes from Lady Florence Cray, however. She needs to be Sir Watykn's niece to make the story work (it's her father Lord Worplesdon in the short story, who will eventually marry Aunt Agatha and so become Bertie's Uncle Percy), so that's what she is; Jeeves in Charge is the story of Jeeves' first encounter with his master, so obviously, most of those formative elements are absent, although the basic structure of Bertie stealing the parcel bound for the publisher, secreting it in his room, Jeeves whisking it away before his room is searched, then sending it to the publisher, thus incurring Florence's wrath, is followed fairly scrupulously. Bertie does not fire Jeeves here as a consequence of the latter expressing his view of the unsuitability of their union, although he says he will need to think very seriously about his future; he realises the near miss he made when he hears her remonstrating non-abstemious servants and mentioning the Theosophical Society, which Wodehouse clearly had enough of a thing about to mention quite regularly, possibly because his older brother tutored Krishnamurti. 


Bertie WoosterYou don't disapprove?
JeevesIt's hardly my place to say.
Bertie WoosterWell, I know it's hardly your place to say, Jeeves. That doesn't usually stop you.

Jeeves isn't, of course, wrong about Florence, and he flourishes some particularly withering put downs of his master on this occasion, from the latter running through a new tune Nagasaki on the piano ("Is that wise, sir, so soon after a heavy meal?") to his view on Strength Through Willpower (he put it by Bertie's bedside table, considering it looked like "an excellent remedy for insomnia"). And his sarcasm regarding Bertie trying to improve his mind ("That scarcely seems possible"). Then there’s his view on Nagasaki itself:

JeevesExtremely… invigorating, sir.
Bertie WoosterMakes you want to get up and bally well have run round the park.
JeevesMy feelings precisely, sir.


He also refuses to steal the manuscript for Bertie ("You’re a hard man, Jeeves": "But a free one, sir, and it is my ambition to remain in that state"), although he seems happy enough handling stolen goods later. And assaulting Oates, which could easily have landed him in stir). A lively episode, then, that mostly manages to make good on its mish-mash of plotting and recast characters.


One aspect of the novel that doesn't make the episode is Bertie's contribution to the talent show. I hadn't realised Wodehouse had such a feud with AA Milne, principally on account of his former friend becoming a severe critic due to Wodehouse's wartime record (hence Bertie’s disdain of "Christopher Robin going hopitty hop" in The Mating Season).



Sources
The Mating Season
Jeeves Takes Charge (Chapter 1 of Carry On, Jeeves)


Recurring Characters:

Sir Watkyn Bassett (1.1, 2.1, 2.2, 3.5)
Madeline Basset (1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2, 3.4, 3.5)
Gussie Fink-Nottle (1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2, 3.4, 3.5)
Sir Roderick Spode (2.1, 2.2, 3.5)
Rev H P “Stinker” Pinker (2.1, 2.2, 3.5)
Stephanie “Stiffy” Byng (2.1, 2.2, 3.5)
Constable Oates (2.1, 2.2, 3.5)











Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You killed my sandwich!

Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
(SPOILERS) One has to wonder at Bird of Prey’s 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I mean, such things are to be taken with a pinch of salt at the best of times, but it would be easy, given the disparity between such evident approval and the actually quality of the movie, to suspect insincere motives on the part of critics, that they’re actually responding to its nominally progressive credentials – female protagonists in a superhero flick! – rather than its content. Which I’m quite sure couldn’t possibly be the case. Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t very good. The trailers did not lie, even if the positive reviews might have misled you into thinking they were misleading.

Afraid, me? A man who’s licked his weight in wild caterpillars? You bet I’m afraid.

Monkey Business (1931)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers’ first feature possessed of a wholly original screenplay, Monkey Business is almost brazenly dismissive towards notions of coherence, just as long as it loosely supports their trademark antics. And it does so in spades, depositing them as stowaways bound for America who fall in with a couple of mutually antagonistic racketeers/ gangsters while attempting to avoid being cast in irons. There’s no Margaret Dumont this time out, but Groucho is more than matched by flirtation-interest Thelma Todd.

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

You’re a disgrace to the family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.

Horse Feathers (1932)
(SPOILERS) After a scenario that seemed feasible in Monkey Business – the brothers as stowaways – Horse Feathers opts for a massive stretch. Somehow, Groucho (Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff) has been appointed as the president of Huxley University, proceeding to offer the trustees and assembled throng a few suggestions on how he’ll run things (by way of anarchistic creed “Whatever it is, I’m against it”). There’s a reasonably coherent mission statement in this one, however, at least until inevitably it devolves into gleeful incoherence.

Bad luck to kill a seabird.

The Lighthouse (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Eggers’ acclaimed – and Oscar-nominated – second feature is, in some respects, a similar beast to his previous The Witch, whereby isolated individuals of bygone eras are subjected to the unsparing attentions of nature. In his scheme of things, nature becomes an active, embodied force, one that has no respect for the line between imaginings and reality and which proceeds to test its targets’ sanity by means of both elements and elementals. All helped along by unhealthy doses of superstition. But where The Witch sustained itself, and the gradual unravelling of the family unit led to a germane climax, The Lighthouse becomes, well, rather silly.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…